By Peter Reynolds
Yesterday, Baroness Molly Meacher asked a question about cannabis in the House of Lords. The question was whether cannabis could be re-scheduled out of schedule one - which determines that it has no medicinal value - to schedule two or three, which would allow doctors to prescribe it and researchers to use it more easily in studies and clinical trials.
The government behaved exactly as expected. The most generous interpretation is that its spokesman, Lord Bates, was misinformed. His first response to Lady Meacher's question was to parrot the Home Office's usual line on cannabis about it being a harmful drug etc etc.
This, of course, is nothing to do with medicinal use. Most medicines are far more harmful than cannabis and any potential harms are traded off against therapeutic benefit. The government's standard and dishonest line is to answer questions on medicinal use with wildly exaggerated claims about the harms of recreational use in children.
Some people are accusing Lord Bates of being a liar but this is not true. He simply has no idea what he is talking about and his briefing from Home Office officials is designed not to inform but to deflect, confuse, obfuscate and retain control within the bureaucracy. The claim that the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommends against medicinal cannabis is factually incorrect. The ACMD is not constituted to advise on the medicinal benefits of any drug.
Lord Bates speaks during the debate
So ignore what the government said. It is largely irrelevant to the process of informing and changing the minds of those in power. Ministers will eventually instruct officials and spokespeople as necessary once they understand that they can no longer sustain this deception.
The rest of the debate was almost all positive. Lord Dubs succumbed to the 'skunk' myth, but who can blame him given the level of propaganda and hysteria promoted even by 'public service broadcasters' and some so-called eminent scientists. Lord Ribeiro, former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, referred to evidence on cannabis helping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers returning from combat. Lord Howarth of Newport referred to the terrible difficulty of those who need access to Bedrocan. He is a stalwart ally of a few, fortunate Clear members whose doctors had the courage to prescribe. He said the government is "flying in the face of much academic and expert medical opinion".
Lord Howarth outlines difficulties of access
This mini debate was good news. Clearly, attitudes are changing and the facts are beginning to overtake the myths. Many lords and MPs are on our side. The government, and particularly the officials at the Home Office, are engaged in a cruel, evidence-free persecution of tens of thousands of people who have a genuine need for medicinal cannabis.
As ever, the way forward is relentless individual lobbying and information. MPs must be confronted with the brutality of current policy and shamed into forcing action. We must keep telling truth to power, challenging misinformation and providing knowledge.
Yesterday, in the House of Lords, some progress was made.
Peter Reynolds is the leader of the Clear: Cannabis Law Reform campaign.
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